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Analysis: U.S. Policy of Iraqi Regime Change

Regime Change



NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

As President Bush says frequently, the policy of the United States in Iraq is `regime change.' That's a phrase widely interpreted to mean the overthrow of the government in Baghdad by any means necessary. The term itself isn't new. In the Iraqi context, it dates at least as far back as 1998, and the United States has a long history of changing regimes in other countries. But the administration's embrace of this expression is meant to represent a philosophical departure from previous policies. Its supporters see an opportunity to bring the benefits of freedom, democracy and free markets to closed societies everywhere from Iraq to China. A new kind of liberation theology, if you will. They point to the historical lessons of Germany and Japan after the Second World War and to the democracies that emerged following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Critics see imperialism and a cynical disregard for what happened in the aftermath of other US-sponsored regime changes. They cite bloody repression in Guatemala, in Chile under Pinochet, Iran under the shah and in the former Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Is regime change a legitimate goal of foreign policy? Is it ever just or right? Does it make a difference if it means deposing an elected president in Chile or reinstating an elected president in Haiti? Where do you draw the line? Our telephone number is (800) 989-8255. That's (800) 989-TALK. Our e-mail address is totn@npr.org.

And we're joined now by John Mearsheimer, a professor and co-director of the Program on International Security Policy at the University of Chicago.

Professor Mearsheimer, it's been a while. Nice to talk to you again.

Professor JOHN MEARSHEIMER (University of Chicago): Likewise, Neal.

CONAN: As we've noted, the idea of regime change might feel new but really isn't. Where do you think it's worked in the past and what have been the indicators of success?

Prof. MEARSHEIMER: Well, the indicators of success are when you get a stable regime or hopefully a democratic regime, a democratic-stable regime that's friendly to the United States. And when we have intervened in the past, it's almost exclusively been for the purposes of getting rid of a regime that we viewed as adversarial and replacing it with a friendly regime.

The fact of the matter is, that our track record on this front is very mixed. As you pointed out, we went into Iran in '53, Guatemala in 1954 and Chile in 1973, all for the purpose of getting rid of leaders who we considered to be unfriendly to us and not helpful for the purposes of winning the Cold War. One could argue that we were reasonably successful in Chile in the sense that it didn't backfire on us, but in the cases of Iran and Guatemala, it did backfire and, you know, in 1979, in Iran, there was a revolution that was in large part tied to what happened in 1953. So those are failed cases.

The successful cases that everybody points to and many people think is a parallel for what might happen in Iraq are Japan and Germany at the end of World War II. I'd make two points there. Number one: We did not go to war against Japan and Germany. They started the war against us. And the Japanese attacked us, of course, at Pearl Harbor on December 7th and the Germans declared war on December 11th. So we didn't initiate the war for purposes of regime change. But, of course, once we're in it, regime change was inevitable. And we did an excellent job after World War II in promoting democracy in those two countries. And the 64,000-dollar question is whether or not you think Japan and Germany is the model that we should assume applies to Iraq or whether you think it's going to look more like Iran or Guatemala or even Afghanistan today.

CONAN: Does the methodology make a difference? In other words, obviously as you point out, World War II, you know, Germany declared war, Japan attacked the United States. But in other situations, there have been debates that became an instrument of American policy. The Cold War was certainly supported by successive administrations. Other regime changes, you know, Iran, Guatemala, Chile, are covert operations, CIA sponsored, coups.

Prof. MEARSHEIMER: Well, I think there's three ways you could do these operations. One were the covert operations, and Iran, Guatemala and Chile were certainly covert operations. Then you can launch small military operations, small attacks. And the Reagan administration invaded Grenada, the first Bush administration invaded Panama and Bill Clinton invaded Haiti. These were all small military operations for the purposes of overthrowing the reigning government. And then the third way you can do it is you can launch a major war. I think we've done it two times in the past with major military operations. The most obvious is the recent attack against Afghanistan where we toppled the Taliban. The other case that I would point to is the Spanish-American War where the Spanish controlled both Cuba and the Philippines--the Spanish empire. And we toppled those regimes and put friendly regimes in place in both Cuba and the Philippines.

And what we're talking about in the case of Iraq is not using covert operations or a small military operation to topple Saddam because it's quite clear we've tried that and we can't succeed. What we're talking about is trying to duplicate what we did in the Spanish-American War or against Afghanistan; that is to use major military forces against Iraq for the purposes of overthrowing Saddam and putting into place a stable and democratic regime.

CONAN: Is regime change, under whatever label you want to call it and however you go about it--is it a legitimate goal of foreign policy? Is it sanctioned by international law?

Prof. MEARSHEIMER: International law is vague enough that you can certainly find a good justification for overthrowing a regime. I think the United States, if it was really pressed, could find lawyers to provide a plausible case for why we should overthrow Saddam. So I don't think you have a problem on that front. I think the question is whether or not it's in your strategic interest to overthrow a government and whether or not you think that there's some reasonable chance you'll get a new government that will be more helpful, not less helpful. I mean, there are many people who argue that if we overthrow Saddam, we may open the sluice gates for more trouble than we bargained for. And in the end, it's better to have him, the devil we know, than the devil that we don't know.

CONAN: Let's take a call. Our phone number again is (800) 989-8255. That's (800) 989-TALK. Our e-mail address: totn@npr.org.

Our first caller is Aaron who joins us from Casper, Wyoming.

AARON (Caller): Yes, hello.

CONAN: Hi, there.

AARON: I just wanted to mention that you had mentioned the shahs in Iran as a bad example of a regime change?

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

AARON: That is not necessarily the United States' fault. I think what the United States needs to do in future efforts is instead of just switching regimes, work on nation building and ensuring that the regime is a stable and a just regime.

Prof. MEARSHEIMER: Well, I think your point's well-taken that the United States should work hard on nation building to ensure that it gets itself a stable and hopefully democratic regime. But the point I would make to you is that that's easier said than done. In the Vietnam War, for example, the United States went to enormous lengths to do a successful job of nation building in South Vietnam so that the South Vietnamese could defend themselves against the North Vietnamese and we could get out of there. But we failed miserably. And if you look at the situation in Afghanistan, the United States is deeply interested in doing a good job of nation building so that government can control its population and keep the Taliban and al-Qaeda out of the region, but whether or not we succeed is another matter because Afghanistan is a very dicey civil society, and there's just not a lot of reason to think that we can create stability there. And, again, to go back to Iraq, many people think a similar situation applies to Iraq.

AARON: Well, just one last comment on that. I think that we should at least put the same amount of resources into nation building as we do into attacking, say, Afghanistan, you know, as much into building it up. And we need to be in there for the long term. To not try is to fail for sure.

Prof. MEARSHEIMER: Well, I...

CONAN: OK, Aaron.

AARON: I'll take anything else off the air.

CONAN: OK. Thanks very much. Go ahead, Professor. I didn't mean to cut you off.

Prof. MEARSHEIMER: No problem. I think that we're definitely going to put an enormous amount of resources into Afghanistan and Iraq as well if we choose to invade Iraq. We will have a deep-seated commitment in both cases in making sure that we have friendly regimes in place. With regard to us staying there for the long term, this is one of the principal reasons I'm opposed to invading Iraq. I think if we invade Iraq, we're going to be there for decades, not a few years. And the same thing is true in Afghanistan. It's hard to see how we get out of town very quickly there. Nation building in Afghanistan and nation building in Iraq should we attack is a long-term project.

CONAN: Joining us now on the phone is Dan Goure, vice president of the Lexington Institute, a public policy organization in Arlington, Virginia.

And, Dan, good to have you back on TALK OF THE NATION.

Mr. DAN GOURE (Lexington Institute): Well, thank you very much, Neal.

CONAN: Regime change, given the history of it, Professor Mearsheimer says the record is pretty mixed. What do you think?

Mr. GOURE: Well, I think actually overall, the record is fairly good, particularly if you're not looking for a permanent change. In the Cold War context, one has to remember that the regime changes were designed to ensure that countries did not fall into the hands of Communists, right or wrong. And that, to a large extent, in fact, almost exclusively, that happened. The only exception was clearly Vietnam and you can argue that that was a function of it being part of a much broader war.

CONAN: Some would argue that the problem was that the goal in Vietnam was not regime change.

Mr. GOURE: Well, it was regime change only focused on half of Vietnam, not the other half of Vietnam. So you could make that case. It seems to me also that one has to be clear about what is meant by regime change in this context, since we're past the Cold War. And it can really be two things. The administration has laid out the more expansive definition, which is not only a regime friendlier to the United States, but one that is, in fact, democratic, meets the interests of the people, doesn't abuse its minorities, etc., which is a fairly daunting goal. If you sort of take the prior case, which is at the very minimum, you want a regime that you have greater influence over, particularly with respect to terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, that ought to be eminently doable.

The second one, the larger goal, that perhaps remains to be seen; although even there, if you look at places the United States has tried to influence in the right direction, from Europe to Asia, we haven't done all that badly at all.

CONAN: Professor Mearsheimer, does it make a difference if you're instituting regime change to get rid of an antagonistic tyrant if you put in a more pliable tyrant?

Prof. MEARSHEIMER: No, there's no question that it's much easier to affect regime change if you're just interested in putting in a more pliable tyrant. The question you have to ask yourself is whether that solves the problem. If we get rid of Saddam Hussein and put in a more pliable tyrant, what exactly does that mean? Does that mean that we can go home and that pliable tyrant won't want nuclear weapons, won't threaten its neighbors? I think that's highly unlikely. Let's assume that the best case happens and that you go into Iraq and you create a stable democracy. The assumption that many people in the administration have is if you have a stable democracy in Iraq, you can go home and that Iraq won't want nuclear weapons and it won't have any problems with its neighbors. Well, if you look at the eight nuclear countries in the world, five of them are democracies: Israel, the United States, Britain, France and India. So why do people think that if you have a democratic Iraq, that it's not going to want nuclear weapons when five out of the eight countries in the world that are nuclear are democracies?

Furthermore, a democratic Iraq is still going to have major problems with Iran because Iran is a country that harbors terrorists. Indeed, it harbors al-Qaeda. It supports Hezbollah and it's pursuing nuclear weapons of their own. So I don't see how we go into Iraq and, even if we create a stable democracy, get out of there anytime soon.

CONAN: Dan?

Mr. GOURE: I don't know that we will get out of there and I'm not sure that getting out of there should be one of the goals. I mean, that's part of the problem here is I think as part of the new national security strategy the administration has put forward, as part of going after these kind of regimes, the idea of being out of those areas is not on. And, in fact, of the great regions of the world, the only one that we are not in, in a major way, happens to be the Middle East, and that is going to change. Being in Iraq, particularly if it's a democratic or a--I guess democratic, I'll use that word--reasonably democratic regime, may be in fact a good thing. Having Iraq as a democratic ally in the region may bring all kinds of benefits. Certainly we can have a security relationship that is positive, including providing nuclear guarantees if necessary against Iran.

CONAN: We are talking about the idea of regime change as a goal of US foreign policy. We'll be taking more of your calls when we come back from a break and looking at historical models. What did happen in Chile and Grenada and, well, also the fall of the Soviet Union, for that matter? Our e-mail address is totn@npr.org. Our phone number is (800) 989-TALK.

I'm Neal Conan. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

We're talking about US interests in forcing regime change on other countries. Our guests are John Mearsheimer, a professor and co-director of the Program on International Security Policy at the University of Chicago. Also with us is Dan Goure, vice president of the Lexington Institute, a public policy research organization in Arlington, Virginia. Of course, you're invited to join the discussion. Our phone number is (800) 989-TALK. That's (800) 989-8255. And our e-mail address is totn@npr.org.

And go right back to the phones. Evelyn joins us from Denver, Colorado.

EVELYN (Caller): Hi. I was wondering, given that most of our regime changes have been either covert operations or very small, quiet military operations, why the Bush administration is choosing to focus so much public attention and actually make a full-scale war out of it? What are the strategic considerations involved?

CONAN: I...

Prof. MEARSHEIMER: Well...

CONAN: Go ahead, John.

Prof. MEARSHEIMER: I was going to say, one reason that there's so much emphasis on regime change, and it's a good reason, at this point in time, is because of Afghanistan and the need to deal with the Taliban and al-Qaeda. So we got very interested in using massive military force for regime change in the immediate wake of September 11th. And in the case of Afghanistan, that obviously made sense.

The question is whether we should do this with regard to Iraq? Now the administration has gone to great lengths to link Iraq with 9/11, to argue that Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein are joined at the hip. But they have not been able to provide credible evidence that that's the case. So basically what we have here is the opening of a two-front war. We're not going against a terrorist threat. We're going against Iraq because it has weapons of mass destruction, and we don't accept the idea that rogue states like Iraq can have nuclear weapons.

CONAN: Dan Goure, what about Evelyn's other point, though, about, you know, why go in with a massive military strike? Maybe he could do it smaller, covert.

Mr. GOURE: Well, we have undertaken a whole series of, frankly, Keystone Kops covert efforts, including one real serious attempt, I think it was in the mid-'90s, and it ended up getting a whole slew of our friends, Shiite and Kurd alike, slaughtered because we didn't follow it up. And at this point, there doesn't seem to be an alternative to a serious military campaign.

The other reason for doing it this way now is the administration's argument that what 9/11 said was that we are vulnerable in a great strategic way and we can no longer tolerate the combination of rogue regimes and advance technology, and after a dozen years or so of sanctions, we are no closer to being able to assure ourselves that Saddam Hussein doesn't have or will not in the future get weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear. So it's sort of now rather than later and big rather than small.

CONAN: Evelyn, thanks very much for the call.

EVELYN: Thank you.

CONAN: OK. Let's go now to James who's on the line from Santa Monica, California.

JAMES (Caller): Hi. I would like to take issue with Professor Mearsheimer's statement that our history of regime change has been successful. I think that if you consider the welfare of the people in the countries whose regimes we are changing, it hasn't been. The three examples he cited--Iran, Guatemala and Chile--I think the governments that replaced the ones we helped depose were far more repressive. In Iran, the shah had 80 percent censorship of the press and the Ayatollah had a hundred percent. I just came back from Chile, and certainly the people I spoke to are still reeling from 17 years under Augusto Pinochet.

CONAN: To be fair, Professor Mearsheimer said mixed record. But go ahead.

Prof. MEARSHEIMER: Yeah. I said that there was a mixed record and I think with regard to Guatemala, Iran and Chile, your description of the situation is on the money. We created regimes that did horrendous things to the people in those countries. And furthermore, I don't think in any one of those three cases, it helped us strategically. But I think there are cases like Japan and Germany, and even Afghanistan up to this point, where what we did was all for the good. So it's a mixed record.

CONAN: Dan Goure, what about the three cases James cites?

Mr. GOURE: Well, in particularly, one sort of can argue that the long-term case has been sort of good for all these countries; that if it had not gone that way, you would have had--as was the case in Eastern Europe and elsewhere--regime change against a Communist regime regardless. And we're sort of, you know, waiting to see what happens in the few places that are still Communist. But overall, again, it was the context of the Cold War where the judgment was less on matter of democracy, as compared to other things, and more on reliability. Now I think one can make a somewhat different argument that it is important not only that these states are reliable, but they are in the general broad camp of liberal democratic states; even if that's a tradition they don't have in the past, it's one they can acquire.

CONAN: But what about James' point that surely the welfare of the people in those countries must be a consideration?

Mr. GOURE: You know, in some sense, I'd have to agree with Professor Mearsheimer that, you know, to try and sort of balance this out, sort of, 80 percent repression, a hundred percent repression, there have been good cases and bad cases, certainly during the Cold War. In the particular cases that we're sort of concerned about, let's say North Korea or even Iraq, these regimes are so bloodthirsty, are so destructive of their own societies of human values, it's hard not to believe that any alternative practically would be a plus, certainly one that we impose.

CONAN: Well, Dan Goure, thanks very much for joining us today.

Mr. GOURE: My pleasure.

CONAN: Dan Goure is vice president of the Lexington Institute. That's a public policy research organization in Arlington, Virginia.

And joining us now on the line is Chalmers Johnson. He's president of the Japan Policy Research Institute, author of "Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire."

And, Chalmers Johnson, it's good to have you back on TALK OF THE NATION.

Mr. CHALMERS JOHNSON (Japan Policy Research Institute): Good morning.

CONAN: Is regime change always a violation of that country's national sovereignty? You would think so.

Mr. JOHNSON: I think there's no question about it. It's without question also illegal under American law. That is to say, the Constitution says explicitly that ratified treaties are the supreme law of the land. We have ratified the United Nations charter and it explicitly denies any kind of right of one nation to change the government, the regime, to invade and destroy the government of another.

CONAN: Is it ever justified to force a regime change on another country? And we've been talking about one example, Nazi Germany.

Mr. JOHNSON: I think it is perfectly plausible you might declare war on another country; for good and substantive reasons, either because you were attacked, there is an imminent danger of attack or something of that sort. But regime change--international law is really quite explicit on what you can do with a defeated country. You can try war criminals. You can extract reparations. You can thoroughly disarm it. But nowhere is there any kind of a right of one country to do to another country what, for example, the United States did to Japan after the war or the Soviet Union did to the East European countries after the war, namely reform it, rebuild it in their own model.

CONAN: No justification for that?

Mr. JOHNSON: I don't see that it's justified, as is they should still do it. The justification would be something that--but at any rate, I would not want to hear the justification coming from Americans or Russians for that matter.

CONAN: Is international law, John Mearsheimer, an obstacle to this kind of change?

Prof. MEARSHEIMER: International law is rarely ever an obstacle to what a great power wants to do on the international stage. If it is an obstacle, the great power will just ignore it. But in most cases, you can find smart lawyers who can find different interpretations of the law that will justify almost any kind of action. That's why any state that depends on international law for its well-being is going to be greatly disappointed.

CONAN: Our next caller is Gary, who's on the line with us from Ames, Iowa.

GARY (Caller): Well, it seems so cynical to simply say you can find a lawyer to justify it. Clearly, the rest of the world is going to see us not as a great power, but simply as the most aggressive nation with the most power that can force things on people. And then to use a word like `regime change,' that's like using the word `making love' if you make love to somebody you've just kidnapped.

My question is, though, not on that. It's on the same sort of cynicism. To say likely we're going to bring them democracy is a wonderful phrase. We'd all love to give somebody democracy. But you can't people bring democracy. It takes generations to develop it, you know. And more important, somebody from the outside can't impose that on you. We're watching what's happening in Afghanistan and just trying to find out very slowly how long it's going to take for them to develop what they're going to develop. This country isn't interested in Iraq and they're going to go there for decades and decades to help them learn kinds of things about democracy. We're just simply going to force another government on them. The rest of the world knows that. Why you say it so blithely, regime change, give them democracy? Isn't that desperately cynical?

CONAN: Well, John Mearsheimer, is it fair to say that the United States brought democracy to Japan, to Germany, to South Korea for that matter?

Prof. MEARSHEIMER: Well, I tend to agree with the thrust of the comments in the sense that I believe that he is right that countries have to be ready for democracy. The ingredients for democracy have to be there. It's very difficult for the United States to impose democracy on countries that don't have the necessary agreements. And in the case of Germany and Japan, you had countries that had basically all the cultural and social prerequisites for democracy...

GARY: Right. The...

Prof. MEARSHEIMER: ...before 1945 and, indeed, were democracies for rather lengthy periods of time before the 1930s. Remember, the Weimar Republic in Germany was a thriving democracy, and there was democracy in Japan in the 1920s. So what the United States had to do after 1945 to create democracy in Germany and Japan was just not that difficult. I think in the case of Iraq, and certainly in the case of Afghanistan, the ingredients are not there in the same way they were in Germany and Japan. And the idea that we can go in and force or impose democracy on those countries I think is highly unlikely.

CONAN: Chalmers Johnson.

Mr. JOHNSON: Americans aren't much interested in history. They don't pay much attention to it. South Korea was mentioned here. The United States supplied South Korea between 1961 and 1993 with three military dictators among the most ruthless around, and South Korea is today indeed a democracy, but it owes nothing to the United States for that. It's the only place in East Asia in which the people themselves have created democracy largely in the face of American resistance. I agree with John Mearsheimer on Japan and Germany that, without question, the fact that they became democracies after World War II reflected the long desire for democracy within the country, and it is American arrogance of almost unimaginable proportions to think that General Douglas MacArthur was a bringer of democracy to anybody. The US Army is not a missionary organization. And, I mean, what is, I think, really dangerous in this discussion of regime change is it is so incredibly aggressive and belligerent and arrogant, it almost surely contains the seeds of its own destruction.

GARY: We're talking about conquest. Why call it regime change? That's just silly.

Mr. JOHNSON: I agree.

GARY: Thank you.

CONAN: John Mearsheimer, are we talking about conquest?

Prof. MEARSHEIMER: Well, there's no question in the case of Afghanistan, but certainly in the case of Iraq that we're talking about conquering the country, taking it over and putting into place a regime that we find friendly to us. We're talking, again, about launching a major war, so it is conquest. There's no doubt about that. And as I said before, before September 11th, the only case I can point to where the United States initiated a war for the purpose of regime change was the Spanish-American War. Otherwise, we have never done it before.

GARY: And we're not talking about killing Saddam Hussein, although that's what we say. We're talking about the collateral damage--but we're not talking about the collateral damage of killing hundreds or hundreds of thousands of Iraqis while we're trying to get Saddam. It's Saddam we want to get, but what about the collateral damage that's guaranteed, hundreds of thousands of deaths? Why don't we talk about that?

CONAN: Get...

Mr. JOHNSON: Let me say a word here if I could. John Mearsheimer is a well-known realist theorist, and he's not much interested in the moral or exemplary aspects of this. I respect his point of view, but it does seem to me that even if I adopt his point of view, then we'd have to say the timing of this so-called regime change is absolutely disastrous. That is, no one has even mentioned that Palestine right next door is largely the cause of our 9/11 crisis and numerous other issues in the area. We send weapons to Ariel Sharon to attack, to kill Palestinians, and it is not too surprising to discover that some Arabs have decided, therefore, to attack Americans.

GARY: And Sharon wants a regime change.

Mr. JOHNSON: Yes. Until we can produce some kind of resolution there, it seems to me bordering on Vietnam-like madness, I mean, as if this was Gulf of Tonkin again, to be talking about establishing another war, one that, for all the reasons John Mearsheimer's mentioned, its outcome is extremely difficult to predict. And then by the same token, Afghanistan is anything but over, that all we have done is to carry out the bombing hoax once again, to drop bombs from 35,000 feet on among the poorest people on earth, in which the bombs are considerably greater value than any of the targets blown up. Under these circumstances, it strikes me the timing here is crazy. The means are disastrous, that we are not trying to take advantage of a more delicate situation in Iran, where we might begin to see a turnaround there, that...

CONAN: Excuse me. I have to...

Mr. JOHNSON: ...it is a blatant violation of virtually every global norm that we pretend--and I say pretend meaning it--to uphold.

CONAN: Gary, thanks very much for the call.

GARY: Sure.

CONAN: You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Here's an e-mail question we got from Robert Tobey(ph). `Regime change has most often failed,' he writes, `in instances such as Zaire and Guatemala, where we acted mostly in our own interests, while regime change has been successful in situations such as the former Yugoslavia, where we acted more in the interests of the local population. I fear that in Iraq,' he writes, `the United States again will be acting more in our own interest than in the interest of the local population.' John Mearsheimer, as a principle, does that hold up?

Prof. MEARSHEIMER: Well, I think that the United States almost always acts in its own interest. We rarely ever act for noble reasons. The United States does not sacrifice blood and iron for the purposes of human rights or for higher moral causes. We act in basically a realpolitik fashion. And I don't think you can argue that we were successful in cases where we acted for purposes of protecting the local population and we failed when we were pursuing our own interests. In the case of Japan and Germany, for example, after World War II, we were certainly pursuing our own interests. It was all linked up with the Cold War, and I think we did a fine job in both those cases. So I don't really agree with the basic thrust of the caller's argument.

CONAN: Give you the last word, Chalmers Johnson.

Mr. JOHNSON: The CIA, we now know, is not an intelligence agency. It's a private army of the president's. Its budget is secret, and that is contrary to the American Constitution, which says we have a right to know how our money is spent. He uses it as he pleases. The record of regime changes carried out by the CIA is almost one of unmitigated disaster, starting back with the overthrow of the Iranian government in 1953 for the sake of the international oil cartel that supplied--British Petroleum came out of it. The...

CONAN: Last very quick thought.

Mr. JOHNSON: And I think that, therefore, precisely what we need in our democracy is questioning of what this administration and the particular advisers that have been appointed to the White House think they are doing.

CONAN: Chalmers Johnson, thanks very much. Chalmers Johnson is president of the Japan Policy Research Institute, the author of "Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire." John Mearsheimer, thanks to you as well.

Prof. MEARSHEIMER: You're welcome.

CONAN: John Mearsheimer is a professor and co-director of the Program on International Security Policy at the University of Chicago.

When we come back, we're going to shift gears. We're going to look at the new poverty data from the US Census. Have you seen a change in your living standards as a result of the recent recession? You can continue this conversation online if you'd like. Go to npr.org, click on the discussion section and then scroll down to TALK OF THE NATION.

I'm Neal Conan. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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